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Monday, December 5, 2022

Starvation threatens two million children in East Africa: what’s going on?

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The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought since 1981. According to the United Nations (UN) World Food Program (WFP), there are already 13 million people in the East African region with food shortages and as many as two million children are expected to die of starvation. WFP Regional Director Michael Dunford expressed his concern about the situation in East Africa and said: “immediate humanitarian assistance is urgently needed”.

In the past three rainy seasons, there has been so little rainfall in the Horn of Africa, which includes the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. Due to the drought, an abnormal amount of livestock dies and crops are unable to grow. In addition, due to a shortage of water, there is a lack of fertile land and, by extension, a lack of employment in agriculture. As a result, people are forced to move to other areas, causing conflict between communities.

Unfortunately, internal conflicts still play a major role in East Africa’s ongoing food shortages. The civil war in Ethiopia, which has been raging in the East African country since November 2020, is causing emergency aid organizations to reach the northern Tigray region with great difficulty due to the danger on the road and in the airspace. In April, the WFP was only able to provide the region with emergency aid again after three months. A civil war has been raging in Somalia for more than thirty years, which also makes it difficult to provide emergency aid. In addition, Sudan has been struggling for two decades with ethnic conflicts that have become increasingly violent since the beginning of this year† The effect of these conflicts is that they contribute to the destruction of farms and the depletion of crops.

Climate change and internal conflict are not the only issues facing the Horn of Africa. The war in Ukraine also has a major impact on the ongoing food shortages. Russia and Ukraine are two of the main suppliers of (cheap) agricultural goods in the region, such as wheat, soybeans and barley. At least 14 African countries import half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Eritrea is even completely dependent on the two Eastern European countries for its wheat imports.

The war in Ukraine is pushing the prices of food, fuel and fertilizer in Africa so high that these goods have become unaffordable for many people. In particular, the high prices for fertilizers are a major problem, as almost all East African countries depend on the import of the product. According to the WFP, higher fertilizer prices will lead to reduced demand for fertilizer, which, in combination with an expected shortage of precipitation, means that crop production will again be disappointing.

East Africa is now off the global agenda, but the region desperately needs the solidarity of the international community

Gabriela Bucher (Oxfam)

The international community also adds that little attention is paid to the humanitarian crisis in East Africa because the eyes of the world are mainly focused on the war in Ukraine. “East Africa is not currently on the global agenda, but the region desperately needs the solidarity of the international community,” Gabriela Bucher, director of the Oxfam aid agency, told the New York Times. She fears the extreme drought in the area will become as severe as that of 2011 when hundreds of thousands of people died.

To avert such a crisis, financial support and other resources are essential, but according to Bucher, there is still far from enough money going to East Africa. So says the UN, which has also made a humanitarian appeal to the international community for $4.4 billion in aid for the Horn of Africa. However, there is still far from being enough financing. “We know from experience that acting early to avert a humanitarian disaster is vital, but our ability to provide aid was limited due to a lack of funding,” said Dunford, UN WFP regional director.

According to Martin Griffiths, director of the UN agency for emergency aid, about $1.4 billion is needed to structurally counteract the negative effects of extreme drought in the area. In February, WFP already launched its Regional Drought Response Plan for the Horn of Africa, calling for economic support ($327 million) to meet the immediate needs of 4.5 million people over the next six months and to empower communities. to make them more resilient to extreme climatic problems.

The situation in East Africa is therefore worrying and it appears that improvement will take even longer. For the coming months, less rainfall is expected, which will lead to a further increase in the number of people suffering from hunger. Moreover, the situation remains uncertain, as the war in Ukraine and the complex conflicts between ethnic groups in East Africa do not seem to be coming to an end for the time being.

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